Sir Agravain (also known as Agravaine) was a Knight of the Round Table in Arthurian legend. He was a brother of Gawain and was known for his loyalty to King Arthur, but also for his treachery and dislike of Lancelot.
Sir Agravain was one of the sons of King Lot of Orkney and Queen Morgause. He was a strong warrior and played a key role in the events that led to the downfall of the Round Table, including the treasonous act of exposing the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere.
He was ultimately killed by Lancelot during the rescue of Guinevere from her death sentence.
In this article, we’ll go into much more detail about Agravain and what set him apart as a Knight of the Round Table.
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In the Prose Lancelot and Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Sir Agravain earned the reputation of being both proud and arrogant due to his disagreeable personality and strong, unyielding spirit. This was exemplified when he boasted to his brothers about his intention to lay with any beautiful lady, even if she was unwilling. Gaheris responded with ridicule, causing Agravain to attack him, until Gawain intervened and reprimanded him for his excessive pride and bullying nature.
Sir Agravain had a deep-seated disdain for any knight who was seen as honorable and brave. He was involved in the killing of Lamorak and the murder of Sir Dinadan during the Grail Quest, further perpetuating his negative reputation.
In earlier works, Sir Agravain was depicted as good-looking and considered by many to be a handsome character. However, in the Vulgate Cycle, he was described as having a somewhat misshapen body.
Despite his disagreeable personality, Sir Agravain was tall and physically imposing. Although he was not often seen on the front lines of battle, he was known as “Agravain who knew no wounds” because he always emerged unscathed from war.
Agravain is mentioned to be popular in his abilities to torture and conduct cruel interrogation, his expertise was said to make a Hippopotamus squeal and ask for mercy in human language.
In the French Prose cycle tradition, It tells a story of how Agravain was cursed by two ladies on different occasions, one cursed him for joking about wounding a Knight and the other for trying to force himself on her and then not hiding his disgust about her infected leg.
Sir Agravain’s intense hatred for his brother Gaheris was a defining trait. In the Post-Vulgate Cycle, he became jealous of Gaheris when he was knighted by Merlin to search for and free Gawain from captivity. Agravain declared that he would be knighted before his brother and by King Arthur himself, based on his seniority. This resulted in numerous physical altercations between the two brothers.
According to the Vulgate, Agravain and his Orkney brothers were later knighted together after serving as squires in Camelot.
Despite his noble status, Agravain was widely disliked for his unruly behavior and tendency to pick fights. He was considered less intelligent than his father Lot, who respected the women in his family, but Agravain failed to do so.
As a young man, Agravain lived in Orkney as a recluse until he was fifteen, when he traveled with his brothers to Camelot.
Despite his unapproachable personality, he continually pursued women who were not interested in him. At his younger brother’s wedding, he drunkenly proposed to his cousin-in-law and ended up marrying someone he never loved or cared for. He eventually abandoned his wife at their estate and returned to Camelot.
Some Redeeming Portrayals
Agravain is not always depicted as a negative character with negative qualities. He is sometimes known as a hero and an adventurous man. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight he is known as “Agravain of the Hard Hand”.
He is also included amongst the respectable and competent knights in King Arthur’s court. One of his heroic deeds includes the Saxon battle were he fought bravely.
In one of his adventures, in the Vulgate Cycle’s Prose Lancelot, he killed evil Lord Druas (The Cruel). Another instance can be seen when Gawain his brother was accused of deceit and treachery by Guigambresil, and he offered to fight on his brother’s behalf.
Agravain was also capable of love, as seen in his admiration for Lady Floree, the niece of the King of Scotland, whom he wooed and won over. He had the highest regard for Queen Guinevere, seeing her as a kind, sweet, and graceful woman, unlike his mean and difficult-to-please mother. He would rather end his life than see any harm come to her.
Unfortunately, he found out she was sleeping with Sir Lancelot which totally broke him because he really believed Guinevere was different from other women he had known all his life. This was perceived as an act of betrayal, thus making Guinevere his enemy and Lancelot his rival.
He played a massive role to expose the affair to King Arthur. In the Vulgate Cycle, it is Agravain who is portrayed as the master conspirator, not Mordred.
The Death of Agravain
Sir Agravain met his downfall as a result of his actions in exposing the affair between Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot. The two had conspired with Mordred to arrest the lovers.
According to Mallory’s account, Agravain was killed during Lancelot’s escape from the Queen’s chamber. However, the Vulgate Cycle has a different depiction of his death.
In this version, Guinevere was to be burned at the stake for her infidelity and Agravain was one of the knights assigned to oversee her execution. But, Lancelot, filled with rage and sorrow, rode to the scene and aimed directly for Agravain, striking him with his lance.
Agravain died reflecting on the life he could have lived as a protector of the King and his kingdom.
Sir Agravain in Popular Culture
Over the years, Agravain has appeared multiple times in pop-culture, including the following:
- The Once and Future King, by T. H. White: Agravain is portrayed as the bully of his family, usually drunk and bloodthirsty.
- Merlin (2008 TV Series): Agravain is portrayed by Nathaniel Parker, and is Arthur’s uncle. He secretly works with Morgana to overthrow the Pendragons. He is killed by Merlin in season 4.
- First Knight (1995 Film): Agravain is portrayed as a heroic knight who, though critical of Guinevere, is protective of her and Arthur, and survives the final battle.
- Fate/Grand Order (2015 Video Game): In this anime video game, Agravain is voiced by Hiroki Yasumoto, and is a spy for Morgan (his mother) who eventually becomes loyal to Arthur. He hates women, which is aggravated by the discovery of Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot.
See our complete list of Arthurian characters for more entries like this one.
Bibliography and Further Reading
- Norris Lacy, Geoffrey Ashe, Debra Mancoff – The Arthurian Handbook (Second Edition)
- Alan Lupack – The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend
- Ronan Coghlan – The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends
- Anonymous – Lancelot-Grail, the French Vulgate
- Sir Thomas Malory – Le Morte d’Arthur
See also my ever-expanding list of primary and secondary sources.